Happiness can trigger ‘broken heart syndrome,’ too: study

Can happiness induce the same symptoms of "broken heart syndrome?".
Can happiness induce the same symptoms of "broken heart syndrome?". THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michael Dwyer

While funerals and breakups are enough to induce what cardiologists call “broken heart syndrome,” new research suggests that happy events – like weddings or having  a baby – could have the same effect on the heart.

You feel aches and pain in your chest, you’re sweating and you feel out of breath. The symptoms are nearly identical to what happens during a heart attack.

Takotsubo syndrome (TTS), more commonly known as broken heart syndrome, is triggered when you encounter a deep emotional distress, the researchers explain. You could be grappling with intense feelings of grief, anger or fear from a death in the family, a breakup or even from worry about an illness.

But doctors need to pay attention to patients turning up in hospital after happy events – their celebrations could be what triggered these red flags too, Swiss scientists say.

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READ MORE: Here’s how women’s heart attack symptoms differ from men’s

“We have shown that the triggers for TTS can be more varied than previously thought. A TTS patient is no longer the classic ‘broken-hearted’ patient and the disease can be preceded by positive emotions, too,” lead author and cardiologist, Dr. Jelena Ghadri, said.

“[Doctors] should be aware of this and also consider that patients who arrive in the emergency department with signs of heart attacks, such as chest pain and breathlessness, but after a happy event or emotion, could be suffering from TTS,” she explained.

Takotsubo syndrome is relatively new – it was only first described in 1990. It’s pretty rare, too.

Ghadri and her team at University Hospital Zurich say they’re the first to establish an international registry documenting patients who encounter this condition. About 1,750 patients from nine countries registered.

READ MORE: Male heart attack patients receive faster care than women, Canadian study suggests

From there, 485 patients encountered broken heart syndrome from an emotional trigger – 20 or about four per cent came after happy events, like a birthday party, wedding, birth of a grandchild and even after their favourite sports team won a game.

But 96 per cent dealt with Takotsubo after a tragedy: death of a family member, going to a funeral, the fallout from an accident, a worry about illness and even breakups.

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Dr. Jeremy Kobulnik, a cardiologist at the University Health Network’s Peter Munk Cardiac Centre and Mount Sinai Hospital, said experts label Takotsubo as stress cardiomyopathy.

“Typically speaking, these patients look like they’re having a heart attack – they have chest pain, chest pressure, they feel unwell and they’re in emotional stress,” he told Global News.

“It’s indistinguishable from a heart attack based on clinical history alone,” he said.

READ MORE: Quarter of heart attack patients weren’t tested for diabetes or high cholesterol

Patients are treated like heart attack victims until doctors unfold the layers. Heart muscles may look damaged on an electrocardiogram, but angiograms would reveal that broken-hearted patients have arteries that are intact and not blocked. That’s the tell-tale sign that a heart attack didn’t occur, after all.

Most patients end up recovering but a handful could end up critically ill. It could lead to heart attack and death in some instances.

But Canadians shouldn’t be worried, Kobulnik said. Broken heart syndrome is already incredibly rare, and the cases of happy events triggering it are even more of an anomaly.

READ MORE: Do heart attack survivors change their unhealthy ways? Study suggests they don’t

Ghadri’s full findings were published this week in the European Heart Journal.

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